Davis, of Springfield, Va., went to these extremes because her 9-year-old daughter was born with a rare disease that required a liver transplant to save her life. “Like many people who love someone who is immunocompromised, we have to be especially careful right now,” she explained. “We have to make decisions about daily life as if her life depends on it — because it does.” That’s why, during the coronavirus pandemic, the Davis family has not run any errands or had direct contact with anyone.
But the overnight ordering was taking a toll on Davis’s career. She runs her own business, Jennifer Davis Media, so she couldn’t afford to let that happen. Plus, when Davis did manage to book grocery deliveries, she noticed she was not getting as much for her money. “It was so pricey that after a few weeks, we stopped using Instacart and have figured out other options,” she said.
A Washington Post editor noticed the same thing when she used Instacart to deliver groceries from Costco. For example, she paid Instacart $92 for steak that bore a $76 Costco price tag and $54 for shrimp that Costco charges $40 for, when purchased in-store. That’s about a 20 percent markup for the steak and 35 percent for the shrimp — on top of her Instacart membership and service fees.
Instacart’s website does state that its prices to deliver from Costco are “higher than store prices,” but doesn’t say how much higher. Instacart told The Post that stores set their own prices on the Instacart platform and that some charge the same prices as in-store, but others charge more. “Costco does not require a membership for people to shop on the Instacart marketplace,” an Instacart spokesperson said. Costco declined to comment.
Instacart is not the only delivery platform where you might encounter higher prices. Shipt provides groceries from stores such as Target and Harris Teeter and says delivery prices are slightly higher to help cover the cost of doing the shopping for you. “Our members can expect to pay about $5 more using Shipt than they would on a $35 order purchased in the store themselves,” according to the Shipt website. That’s a 14 percent markup on top of the Shipt membership fee.
“We didn’t know that,” Davis said. “We hadn’t used grocery delivery in years until the pandemic.” Since the novel coronavirus has prompted a wave of new customers to try grocery delivery, I decided to pore over various methods of obtaining fresh foods — both conventional and creative — and get the facts. I looked at availability, fees, minimums, memberships and markups. And I tried to book a window with each to see how soon I could score a spot.
INDEPENDENT DELIVERY SERVICES
Perhaps the biggest benefit of using an independent delivery service is that you can get groceries from multiple stores, sometimes even in the same order.
Where: 5,500 cities in all 50 states.
Stores: 50-plus retailers, including: Aldi, Balducci’s, BJ’s, Costco, Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Shoppers, Target, Wegmans.
Membership: Not required, but customers can get an Instacart Express subscription to get free deliveries for $99 annually or $10 monthly.
Minimum order: $35.
Delivery Fee: Starts at $3.99 for nonmembers and can be more depending on time and size of order. Instacart also charges a 5 percent service fee for nonmembers and a smaller one for members.
Markups: Yes, for some retailers.
Windows: Same-day delivery is offered, when available. In late May, I was able to book a next-day window in Washington.
Tricks: Look for the thousands of coupons and deals featured on the Instacart app/website.
Where: 260 cities.
Stores: CVS, Harris Teeter, Meijer, Safeway, Target and more.
Membership: Required. $99/year or $14/month.
Minimum order: $35 for free delivery.
Delivery Fee: $7 for orders of less than $35.
Markups: Yes, of approximately 14 percent.
Windows: Same-day delivery available. I was able to book a window within two hours.
Tricks: You can use Shipt to shop at Target for a $10 fee without joining the service.
STORE DELIVERY SERVICES
For customers new to online grocery shopping, delivery from your familiar store can be the easiest, because if you enter your loyalty card number, past purchases should populate your online queue for easy shopping.
●Albertsons Brands (Albertsons operates multiple grocery chains.)
Where: 2,000 stores serving as many as 34 states plus the District of Columbia.
Stores: Acme, Jewel-Osco,
Pavilions, Randalls, Safeway, Shaw’s, Star-Market, Tom Thumb, United and Vons.
Membership: Not required, but customers can get an annual delivery subscription for $99 or monthly for $15.
Minimum order: $30.
One-hour window: $9.95.
Two-hour window: $6.95.
Four-hour window: $3.95.
Windows: Same-day delivery is offered, when available. In late May, I was able to book a window first thing the following morning.
Tricks: Discounted delivery windows are available daily. Look for those marked “Save $.”
●Amazon Fresh/Amazon Prime Now/Whole Foods Market (Amazon operates three full-service delivery programs with subtle differences.)
Where: More than 2,000 cities and towns across 90 major metropolitan areas.
Stores: Whole Foods Market plus other local stores in some areas.
Membership: Amazon Prime membership required for all three services.
Minimum order: $35. ($50 in New York City.)
Two-hour delivery: $5 for orders under $35.
One-hour delivery: $10 for orders under $35.
Rush one-hour delivery: $12 for orders under $35; $8 for orders over $35.
Markups: For the Whole Foods delivery service, “Prime members can expect to see the same prices online as in-store,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Windows: Same-day delivery is offered, when available. I was able to book a window eight hours later.
Tricks: Non-Prime customers can sign up for a free 30-day trial and take advantage of these delivery services during that time.
Where: 109 stores in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District and West Virginia.
Stores: Giant and Martin’s stores.
Membership: Not required, but customers can get a PodPass subscription to cover delivery fees for $99 per year, $69 per six months or $13 per month.
Minimum order: $30.
Delivery Fee: $6.95-$9.95, depending how much you buy.
Markups: The Peapod website states that online and in-store prices may differ. When I compared prices for 10 popular products, the totals were within about a dollar of one another.
Windows: I was able to secure a six-hour window the following day.
Tricks: Link your loyalty card to receive familiar store discounts, but also look for special discounts available online only.
Where: 3,000 Walmart stores nationwide.
Membership: Not required, but customers can get a “Delivery Unlimited” subscription for $98 per year or $13 per month.
Minimum order: $30.
Delivery Fee: Up to $10. Varies based on time slot.
Windows: Same-day delivery is offered, when available. I was able to secure a slot 12 hours later.
Tricks: Walmart also offers grocery pickup, and there’s no fee.
The coronavirus pandemic has turned all sorts of businesses into grocery delivery companies, including dog walkers from the East Coast (woofies.com/woofies-concierge) to the West Coast (belovedpetsit.com). For a more formal arrangement, there’s TaskRabbit, a platform to connect with independent contractors.
Where: 53 large and medium-size cities around the country.
Stores: Any and all — including Trader Joe’s, which has no formal delivery arrangement.
Membership: Not required.
Minimum: One-hour minimum.
Delivery Fee: I saw “Taskers” on the site charging anywhere from $17 to $50 per hour in my area. TaskRabbit takes its 15 percent commission out of that rate.
Windows: When I checked, I could hire a D.C.-area Tasker to start my job within an hour.
Tricks: You reimburse your Tasker through the app, with a photo of the receipt as proof of the total.
Distributors who used to supply only restaurants have begun selling directly to consumers, and they’re unlikely to stop now that they’ve tapped this new market. For example, in the Washington area, many customers are arranging deliveries from Baldor Foods (baldorfood.com) and Keany Produce (keanyproduce.com). Here’s an example from a supplier that serves more of the United States.
●The Chefs’ Warehouse
Where: Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, West Coast plus parts of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas.
Membership: Not required.
Minimum order: $250 for free delivery.
Delivery Fee: $35 if less than $250
Windows: Delivery in one to three business days after order confirmation.
Tricks: Restaurants often have access to higher grades of beef, such as U.S. Agriculture Department “Prime” and “Choice,” so you can sample a better steak than you would find in many grocery stores.
A clever way to get anything — whether it’s produce, dairy or proteins — delivered to your home is to sign up for a local farm share. You can find a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) near you at Local Harvest or Modern Farmer. Here’s a sample of one that operates in the Washington area.
●Washington’s Green Grocer
Where: The District, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware beach towns.
Membership: Not required.
Minimum order: $40 for free delivery.
Windows: Delivers to Maryland on Tuesday, Virginia on Wednesday and Washington on Thursday.
Tricks: Many CSAs now allow you to make substitutions, so you are not stuck with products you don’t like.
So there you have it, nine different ways to get fresh food delivered to your home. Now here’s No. 10: Jennifer Davis ended up hiring a furloughed friend to shop for her, which benefits them both.